I was really inspired by what Pieter Levels did with his 12 startups in 12 months. He did that because he had lots of good project ideas but had problems finishing and launching due to fear of failure, perfectionism, boredom. That resonated deeply and made me think about my own growing dissatisfaction with how I’m not creating much. I thirsted after more of such stories.
There’s a growing circle of indie product makers of small-medium internet businesses, so inspiration was plentiful. It was surprising how Ryland King spent 7 days, 0 code and launched 1 startup. I was super impressed how Jennifer Dewalt learned to code by building 1 website a day for 180 days. All these stories showed how there’s little excuse left for not acting on my ideas. And I’m tired of myself talking about making products but never.
So I’m borrowing from their playbook and committing to make 1 minimum viable product (MVP) per month. I’ll keep going till I run out of ideas or money, or something takes off in a huge way that requires all my time, or exhaustion kicks in. Whichever comes first.
Why AM I doing this?
1 It’s the reason why I left the Public Service in the first place, 4 years ago. I was part of The Human Experience Lab, an innovation team within a central government organisation. It was a great job, but I left because I wanted to build things. But while I succeeded in building a design consultancy business since then, I was busy building other people’s ideas. Not mine. But I didn’t know what I wanted to build. It always felt more interesting to help others build their ideas when I’m clueless about mine. There’s always this lingering sense that I’m copping out. A cop out to my own aspirations. That unfulfilled dream gnawed at me. Down to the bones.
2 As a consultant, I’m not typically involved in implementation. While work had been intellectually stimulating, I itched to make stuff. I missed working with my hands. I wanted to explore more entrepreneurial sides of me. I was feeling unbalanced and blocked due to too much thinking, not enough making and creating and following through.
3 I kept talking about making products for the PAST THREE YEARS, but never did. I kept holding back on making anything because I kept waiting for the perfect idea that I’m passionate about, that has market potential, that is aligned with all the stars in the universe. I’m frustrated that I can’t match my actions to my speech. It smells of hypocrisy. A lack of integrity to my higher callings. I want to make good on my promises, even to myself.
4 I’m a big believer in how setting intention clearly shapes our reality, so I hope the mental clarity I get by writing this down publicly will help shape my own reality. It’s also a great social commitment device to put a spotlight on my actions, how I deliver and follow through. It’s not just for myself from myself, but also from others through their helpful questions and reminders. So yes, please ask me about this or remind me, especially if I’m slacking off!
While I love the sense of optimism from consulting for government and will continue to do so, I really want to spend considerably more time making products this year. Maybe 50:50 for a start at least.
Besides the personal reasons above, I see some converging external opportunities as well. These opportunities made me ask some interesting questions:
1 It’s a new year, a new blank schedule that’s open to intention. I can plan time for making instead of chasing consulting opportunities without larger direction or purpose.
How might a year of intention look like?
2 It’s been 6 years since I started work at the intersection of design and public good. Lots of interesting ideas that had come up on the side, from all the work done on public/social issues. Ideas for products, services and businesses that are well placed to be developed by third-party partners from the private or people sector. It’ll be such a shame and a waste of potential if they were left to the graveyard of ideas. This ideas backlog presents a great opportunity.
What if there’s a world-changing idea in there? What’s the opportunity cost then for NOT acting?
3 There are many tools available now to help an indie solo maker scale something for the world. The ease and accessibility to do that is crazy! No longer do enterprising creatives need to work for large corporations in order to “change the world” (not liking that oft-overused phrase, but you get it). I had mostly served the local market, and now I’m dying of curiosity to see what’s it like to engage with a global audience. There’s also a frequent criticism that Singaporeans are too sheltered, think too small and don’t venture abroad.
What holds us back from venturing afar? What holds me back? Imagination? Ambition? Fear? Wouldn’t it be awesome to learn about it?
4 Tapping on this strong motivation and energy to MAKE this year. I have a strong feeling that this represents the next phase of personal growth. I see career as a means to grow as a human being, more about personal growth and learning. Rather than promotions and raises, it’s about learning new things about myself, testing sides of myself that I’m uncomfortable with, or letting loose creative energies dying to be released.
How might this journey create meaningful opportunities for deeper self growth?
5 The barrier to making products even for non-tech founders is getting lower by the day. I don’t code (but I’m learning how to right now – story for another blog post). Made Without Code lists many products that got shipped without coding. These days it seems like everyone’s making products using a remix of internet services – Typeform (data collection), Stripe (payment), Airtable (database), Zapier (automation) and Slack (community forums). So it’s getting really easy for folks like me who don’t know how to code. Besides, for MVPs, it’s about getting products to market fast and iterating on user feedback, so investing too much time coding a too-perfect product is actually counter-productive (especially when you have no idea whether it addresses any real need).
Imagine if technical competence was no matter – what could I accomplish then?
One minimal viable product (MVP) per month starting Feb 2018.
Firstly, what do I mean by MVP?
In industry parlance, an MVP is “a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.” It can be fully formed product or business where an interested customer can start buying immediately. Or it can be like what Dropbox did to verify market interest – a MVP landing page to showcase what the product can do before they even started coding.
The minimum viable product you’ll need to build to find the right customers is different from the minimum viable product you need for testing pricing, which is different from an MVP you would build to test specific product features. And all of these hypotheses (and minimal viable products) change over time as you learn more. – Steve Blank
The intent here is not about being profitable right at launch, but to launch ideas into the world, test them and observe the impact it can potentially create, and see which ones to take further. The meta-side of things is to learn the skills needed from doing all of the above, beyond the typical consultant loop of research, prototyping, concept. I hope to grow more in:
- making skills (higher-resolution interactive UI/UX design prototyping tools like Sketch/Invision, building websites from code, making digital & physical products, learning the full stack)
- marketing (crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, interacting with press, email marketing with Mailchimp)
- launching products (using platforms like ProductHunt, Betalist, Amazon, Sellfy),
- doing sales
- operationalising business operations (working with suppliers, partners)
- first- to last-mile delivery to the end user
- post-purchase engagement
- building community (using Slack, Telegram, online forums, email newsletters)
Stoked to see how things will unfold this year!
✅✅ Made it list ✅✅
Here’s the list of products I made so far. I’m planning to write something brief for each project launch and will update this list as I go along. Track my goals on Facebook and Twitter, and there’s also a Telegram channel.
- Feb – Outsprint Store, an ecommerce store selling design tools for public good
- Mar – Public Design Vault, a curated directory of 500+ design tools for public good, all in one place
- Apr – Public Design Forum, a global community of designers and innovation professionals for public good and social impact
- May – Public Design Jobs, a mission-based job board for design & innovation jobs in the public sector, worldwide.
- June – hiatus to recap, reflect, refresh
- July – UX Storyboard, an online productized service to help designers and innovators tell better stories of the UX of their product/service through storyboarding.
🙏🙏 Make ‘EM list 🙏🙏
Some working ideas I have. Some are personal painpoints, others from observation and research. Not confirmed that I will make all of them. How do I decide which one gets made? More on this in another post perhaps, but basically this:
I’ll strike off items from this list as I make them. Let me know if these are stuff that helps solve a painpoint in your work, or if you have an even better idea, or if you’d like to pitch in for any. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea at all how to even start most of them!
Local user recruitment service for designers, by designers (done in 2017) Online store – card sort tools for design research + templates + workshop logistics
- Online coaching service for design synthesis. Online mostly, with offline offering for Singapore.
Freemium membership chat group in Slack/Telegram – for design thinkers for public good Online job board – local-regional design jobs/internships/volunteer/business(GeBIZ) opportunities for social impact and public good
- To-do nagger bot on Telegram (original inspiration – iOS Nagger app)
- Apple Watch app – an intimate, on-skin experience for mindfulness-based practice reminders
- Web app – identity-secure automated SMS appointment reminders for clients of public/social welfare services
- Transcription of field interviews for design teams. Value-add by highlighting themes for potential insights and synthesis
- A Creative Commons Zero, public domain stock photos of Singapore – for local businesses and professionals or businesses that need stock media for Asian-specific cultures/countries
- Advisory service for commissioning design thinking consultancy services
Design tools for public good listing platform – taking inspiration from Nomadlist D.tv – curated collection of online videos of design thinking + making my own concept videos
- One stop aggregation platform for consumers to check out all smart home tech
- Carousell-like white label platform for people in developing countries to buy and sell basic commodities like water, electricity, fuel whenever public infrastructure goes down
- Chat bot+live customer chat messaging web service for large public sector organisations with huge repositories of information available on their website – to help ease burden on their customer support in service centres and landlines
- Online support communities in Slack or Telegram for specific niches, e.g. parents with children with disabilities
- Sacred commons – a family of values, tools and group practices that can help nurture interfaith experiences of peace
- Online tool to help people listen deeply to one another, practice kind speech and find common ground
- Reinvent the GeBIZ government procurement platform to help match problems to solutions, instead of specifications to commodities.
- Civic crowdfunding platform for community-supported civic infrastructure/services, stuff that the government will not fund
- Sharing economy / collaborative consumption platform for non-profit organisations to share assets and under-utilised equipment to avoid redundant asset cost
- Web app that help people choose their HDB flat based not just on property factors, but lifestyle decisions
- Graphic design for public/social issues in Singapore or the region, like CUP
- Sh*t we say in gahmen – a noob’s dictionary for translating design thinking to government speak
- Chinese dictionary for design thinking – the field guide for designers venturing into the Middle Kingdom
- Simulation experience workshops for social issues to generate empathy and bridge polarised groups
- Fun prototyping workshops for kids to learn creativity, empowerment and expression
- Online incentive/voucher delivery service for design researchers – you order online, we deliver straight to the inbox of your respondents to save you the trouble of buying vouchers yourself for your interviews
- Aggregated portal to help non-profit organisations or social activists search for the right grants/funds
- Virtual Assistant service for social workers to help with their workload
- App to manage all smart home devices, across brands
- plainlanguage.gov for Singapore – copywriting for public good
- Post-It documentation for design projects – transcribing, summarising, visualising sticky notes (pay per project or per sheet?)
- Fiverr-like gig site for persons with disabilities
- ‘Airbnb’ for affordable workshop venues
- OpenSG – like OpenIDEO, match volunteers/final year students who need projects to actual projects from NGOs/social sector
- Video production productized service for interviews from design research
- Service to create your app mockups using Powerpoint
- Write ebook on 101 hacks for design for public good (for example, this ebook on growth marketing)
- Bot-as-a-service for community management on Telegram/Slack/Facebook groups
- Digital marketplace for products for social good, or a Netflix for social goods – buyer requests, seller bids
- Personalised advisory service to outfit you with the right tools for your project/workshop (tangential from Public Design Vault)
- Product/service to help Singapore’s war on diabetes – “Drink Water”. How might we create high leverage nudges to get people to drink water?
- Blockchain for social services/charities – decentralised way to authenticate and verify identity that’s easy, on-the-go and secure (encrypted), e.g. for homeless services.
- Social proof job referral network site to refer friends/contacts to hirers. We always prefer to hire someone who’s been recommended from social circles.
- CafesForWork / Coffice / NotCoWork – a city-based directory of top10 cafes for remote work professionals who don’t need co-working spaces, like this.